What is innovation? It was American science author and media theorist Steven Johnson who recently said that “if you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes from creating environments where their ideas can connect“.
Innovation, technology and connectivity have been a huge part of the Portuguese mindset since ancient times when its sailors connected the world by sea using caravels and cutting-edge sailing techniques. In fact, Portugal’s history has always been about connecting people and ideas: from the Age of Discovery to today’s cosmopolitan atmosphere, the country acts as a bridge between the Americas, Africa and Asia.
The main driver of the country’s economy has traditionally been the Porto & North region, an industrial and technological hub where the nation itself was born, in the city of Guimarães, back in the 12th century.
Voted Best European Destination in 2012, 2014 and 2017, the “Unvanquished City” of Porto is the second biggest Portuguese centre and the main city of Portugal’s Northern Region.
With its old riverside centre designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its chefs collecting a number of Michelin stars, as well as its praiseworthy wines and vast stretches of Atlantic shore on its doorstep, Porto is the perfect gateway for a journey through the natural and cultural diversity of the region. The city and the region, however, are known worldwide not only for their wines and exquisite cuisine. Porto School of Architecture, for example, has left an architectural legacy in the whole Northern region as well as worldwide, especially with the two Pritzer Awards who came from here, Álvaro Siza Vieira and Souto de Moura. Remarkable, in fact, is the region’s ability to combine the antiquity of churches and monuments with the contemporaneity of outstanding buildings. But today, perhaps more than ever in its history, Porto and the whole northern region have made a name for themselves for their vibrant and fast-growing ecosystem of knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurship.
The region is becoming one of the main hubs of startups in Europe, and every year technology companies from all over the world choose the region to base their headquarters or expand their operations. Porto, Braga, Viana do Castelo, Guimarães, to name a few, boast the best-ranked universities in Portugal and internationally, being a rich source of talent and knowledge that drives the regional innovation ecosystem. This outstanding pool of talent, by itself, is transforming the region, boosting its economy and driving innovation worldwide by creating hundreds of disruptive startups.
Here at Visit Porto & North, we firmly believe that the Meetings & Events industry, as well as tourism in general, can benefit from exposure to an ecosystem where innovation meets history, one that makes our destination unique and a top choice to host tech events, incentives, business retreats, meetings and conferences of all sorts.
Why are startups important? Although they start as small companies, the need to scale quickly turns them into key factors that play a significant role in economic growth. They create more jobs, move the economy and spur innovation into sectors that are at the base of any region’s economy. In the case of Porto & North, they are redesigning traditional sectors such as hospitality, fashion and the textile industry.
Holding a Master’s Degree in Software Engineering and an executive MBA, Felipe Ávila da Costa, Co-Founder and CEO of Infraspeak, started his entrepreneurial journey as a program manager for the Technological Center and the Startup Acceleration Program of UPTEC (University of Porto Science and Technology Park), where he supported the start, early development and growth of more than 250 startups and innovation centres. He is also one of the creators of Founders Founders, a community-driven scale-up incubator located in Porto and Lisbon. Deeply involved in the Portuguese entrepreneurial ecosystem and featured as one of the "40 business leaders of the Future" in Portugal by FAE, Felipe is an experienced mentor and speaker.
Our International Promotion Director, João Ramos, met Felipe at Vila Galé Collection Braga, a 4-star hotel owned by the Portuguese chain Vila Galé that has massively invested in innovation and is using Infraspeak technology to make the management of their facilities more efficient.
Imagine an average hotel, with 300 rooms, where every day the cleaning and maintenance teams have about 450 tasks to perform: tidying rooms, changing a light in a hallway or fixing an air conditioner. All under the eyes of the maintenance manager. What Infraspeak does is migrating all the scheduling and organization of this work into a digital platform, therefore improving exponentially the efficiency of facility management.
“Digitalisation is going all around and facility management was somehow left behind”, said Felipe in our interview. Founded in 2015, the startup is already working with major companies worldwide including Siemens, Domino’s Pizza, InterContinental Hotels and Vila Galé Hotels helping them to run their maintenance processes more efficiently and reducing bureaucracy. Although it may not seem obvious, solutions such as the one developed by Infraspeak have a great impact on hosts’ experience and, mixed with other technologies such as IoT, they can represent the next step towards the future of events and hospitality. “One of the trends we are seeing is ultra-personalisation, where you dedicate a lot of your operation to make sure the end customers have exactly what they are looking for. Combining B2C technologies to help you interact with customers, with facility management solutions that act on the backstage, allow you to deliver an exclusive experience to your end-user, you can even surprise them! I think there are plenty of opportunities in this area”, concludes Felipe.
Every year, more than 100 billion articles of clothing are produced, with nearly 20% of them going unsold. Such excess ends up being sold at discounted rates, or simply excess clothes are landing in a landfill if never sold, which, in addition to being a huge problem for the environment, means losing money.
But there is a startup born in the Porto & North region that is providing a solution to fashion’s overproduction: PlatformE, offering a platform that connects the end consumer directly to the supply chain and therefore allowing a made-to-order model that avoids overproduction and waste. We have followed PlatformE's full process, from their offices in Porto to the factory in São João da Madeira and the delivery of the product to the final consumer.
Founded in 2015 by Ben Demiri and Gonçalo Cruz, PlatformE counts with the participation of another famous local entrepreneur: José Neves, founder of one of the 3 portuguese unicorns Farfetch. PlatformE’s primary mission is to empower brands to transition to made-to-order production methods — allowing consumer demand to guide output and, in turn, promoting more efficient practices and tackling overproduction.
The company focuses on three key pillars to achieve its mission:
“In this three-sided process, the third pillar is absolutely key to have real-time connectivity to the factory, which allows producing exclusively what the end consumer wants. This is why it is so strategic for us to be located in Portugal’s Northern region, to be easily connected to the factories'', says PlatformE CEO Gonçalo Cruz, who, similarly to what Felipe Ávila da Costa predicted, believes that we are moving towards ultra personalization: “another advantage of on-demand production is that we are able to offer customization and personalization of products”.
In a world where gaming and virtual realities are becoming more and more relevant, E-fashion can also be a powerful element to stand out in a digital world. With the software available today you can dress an avatar and replicate the movement and textures of the chosen - fully customized - piece of couture and that way create an enhanced and more personalized experience for the participants of any 3D virtual event. It will provide a fun element as there are countless possibilities to play with a digital piece of fashion and for sure serve as a great talking point to open up networking rounds.
It is not only when you think of how to dress up for your next virtual event that Porto & North of Portugal is a destination you shouldn’t lose sight of. Planning live events in the region means having access to a unique mixture of culture, history, lifestyle and gastronomy while surrounded by an unconventional and experimental atmosphere. With such a vibrant startup ecosystem that impregnates this historic land with a dazzling contemporary environment, Porto & North of Portugal is where live event attendees can breathe innovation, connect with local start-ups, immerse in this landscape of avant-garde ideas and feel the sparks of history meeting innovation.